Jan 24, 201303:10 PMPoint of View

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Engaging with Gowanus

Engaging with Gowanus

If something between $467 million to $504 million were about to be spent in your back yard, wouldn’t you want to know what those dollars would buy and add your voice to the discussion?

Those dollar amounts reflect the estimated cost for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. The canal, an EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund site, is an extremely polluted body of water with hazardous materials like coal tar, oil, metals, and other toxins. These contaminants are resting in the sediments at the bottom of the canal. The EPA’s job is to study the area, determine who is responsible for the contamination, create a plan for clean up, and oversee the clean up, which is paid for by the responsible parties. The EPA does this with the objective of removing risk to human and ecological (plant and animal) life in and around the canal.

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January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham

To help them achieve that objective, the EPA has defined a series of 9 criteria for evaluating the alternatives for clean up. Many of these criteria focus on common sense things like smart, efficient, and safe actions; but there is one very key criteria that you should care about, “Community Acceptance”.

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January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham

Community acceptance is what makes this a great time to speak up. Right now the EPA is in the Proposed Plan Comment Period, which is the time when the agency is required by law to take comments on its proposal for how to clean the canal; and they must respond to these comments in documented form. Why comment? Here are a couple of reasons.

  1. Everyone is listening – Politicians, businesses, and the media are all watching very closelyhow the various groups involved, including the community, are responding to the plan.
  2. It’s on the record – Community groups, mission driven organizations, and concerned citizens not only can know they are being heard, but will actually see their comments (or similar ones), answered in written form by the EPA.
  3. Now is the time – The public comment period is the primary time that the community has to comment on the proposed plan. It’s open till March 28, and after that, there will be a lot less attention paid to the comments and questions surround the plan.

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Gowanus Canal, photo courtesy EPA

But what should you comment on? Here are the comments I am going to submit, to maybe give you some ideas:

  • In a post-Sandy New York, all communities, including the Gowanus Canal, should work towards softer (parks) or rugged (highly resilient) waterfront development. The EPA remedy should address that with restored wetlands beyond just the 1st Street Basin, and with requirements of green infrastructure, oyster reefs, elevated utilities, and decreased densities inside the 100-year floodplain surround the canal pursuant to preventing sewage, oil, and other decentralized forms of contamination from re-contaminating the remedy during a flood or storm surge event.
  • What are the types of specific actions EPA will take to secure the clean up site in the event of a major storm like Hurricane Sandy?
  • What steps and technology will be used by EPA to ensure that any processing facilities located in Red Hook will not result in health risks to Red Hook, particularly during flooding and storm surge events?
  • What steps and technology will be used by EPA to ensure that any processing facilities located in Red Hook will not result in noxious odors, noises, or traffic?

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Gowanus Canal, photo courtesy EPA

My strategy with the comments above is to make sure each comment and question is grounded in details from the Proposed Plan, and other details from the EPA’s process. For a quick overview, here is the EPA’s 3-page fact sheet. Also, questions asking for specific details will get better longer and more detailed responses then straight comments. However, direct comments of what you want, clearly state how you want the plan to change and if repeated enough by others, may result in a change to the plan.

The comment period, open till March 28, 2013, can be taken advantage of in a few ways. Last night was the EPA’s first public meeting, held in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Tonight there is another meeting, happening at 7pm EST at the Joseph Miccio Community Center, located at 110 West 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY. There will also be a public meeting on February 11th with the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG). The CAG is a coalition of local residents and concerned organizations who have been involved with the EPA since 2011, and who have the primary responsibility of collecting and disseminating information between the EPA and the local communities and organizations located near or involved with the Gowanus Canal.

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Gowanus Canal, photo courtesy EPA

At these meetings you can come out, hear a presentation about the plan, and you will have an opportunity to ask questions, and submit comments. You also can submit comments on your own in written form, both by email to GowanusCanalComments.Region2@epa.gov and by mailing comments to:

Christos Tsiamis Project Manager Central New York Remediation Section U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 290 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10007-1866

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